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Montana Politicians Rally Behind Locked-Out Mill Workers

Locked-out Imerys America employees at the talc mill in Three Forks, MT. August 24, 2018.
Montana AFL-CIO
Locked-out Imerys America employees at the talc mill in Three Forks, MT, August 24, 2018.

A labor dispute continues at a Montana talc-milling company.

The state’s top elected officials are rallying behind the 35 unionized workers now locked out of their Three Forks plant.

The support includes both Democrats and Republicans.

The talc mill workers have received moral support from Montana’s top Democrats, including U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Governor Steve Bullock and U.S. House Candidate Kathleen Williams.

Perhaps more surprising is support from top Republicans, like State Attorney General Tim Fox, Senator Steve Daines, and Congressman Greg Gianforte. All have also issued statements in support of the Imerys America employees who are now locked out of their plant.

“It’s Montana versus an out-of-state, multinational corporation," says Montana AFL-CIO spokesman Bob Funk. “I don’t think it matters if you’re pro-union or pro-business or what your political stripes are. When your neighbors down the road are attacked, Montanans stand up for them."

Senator Daines’ office sent a statement to MTPR saying he supports good paying jobs and wanted to be responsive to the union’s concerns. Congressman Gianforte’s office confirmed his statement of support, but declined an interview request from MTPR.

Contract negotiations between the French-owned Imerys company and members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers’ Local D-239 broke down August 2. That’s when the company locked the employees out - Montana’s first such lock-out in almost 40-years. Non-union employees are now working at Imerys.

AFL-CIO’s Bob Funk describes this labor dispute as a potential precedent setter and suspects it’s being closely watched from out-of-state.

"I think with a very unfavorable labor relations board in D.C. right now, a lot of large businesses that have plants and factories and industry in Montana will be looking to this,” Funk says.

Imerys America did not respond to Montana Public Radio’s interview request.

Funk, meanwhile, says there’s no sign this dispute will end anytime soon.

Montana Public Radio also reached out to Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Matt Rosendale for comment on this story. In an email, a Rosendale spokesman said, "Matt stands with our workers. Imerys should do the right thing and meet with the boilermakers. Let's get them back to work!"

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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